Atlanta, GA,
09:32 AM

Research Employee Shares What is at the Heart of Any Good Researcher

Nicole Thompson, MPH, is a research program manager for acquired brain injury and assistive technology at Shepherd Center and director of operations for the Accessibility User Research Collective (AURC).

Nicole Thompson has worked at Shepherd Center since 2003. Photo by Phil Skinner.

Nicole Thompson shared what inspires her to work in research at Shepherd Center in the latest issue of Spinal Column. You can check out the full magazine here.

Q: How long have you worked at Shepherd Center?

I have worked at Shepherd Center since 2003.

Q: What is your role at Shepherd Center?

I am a research program manager in two areas: acquired brain injury (ABI) and assistive technology. Ultimately, all the research work I do is centered around improving the quality of life of people with disabilities and those with various accessibility needs.

As the ABI research program manager, I work with the director of brain injury research, Brick Johnstone, Ph.D., ABPP, to facilitate the implementation of research projects across many Shepherd Center patient programs. I assist with the entire research process including designing projects, grant writing, Institutional Review Board (IRB) activities, project coordination, data collection, database management, data analysis and manuscript preparation. As you can imagine, being organized and being able to multitask are useful skills in doing this job!

As an assistive technology research program manager, I work with John Morris, Ph.D., FACRM, senior clinical research scientist, and the team to manage the operations of industry-funded research projects such as the Accessibility User Research Collective (AURC). In this role, I oversee the AURC database and project coordination of several studies in the collaboration Shepherd Center has with Microsoft.

Q: Talk about what you do as director of operations for the Accessibility User Research Collective (AURC) and why this work is important.

I work with Microsoft researchers, developers and engineers to coordinate research studies, such as surveys, interviews and user testing sessions, that focus on inclusive design, as well as the accessibility and usability of specific products and services (e.g. Xbox, Microsoft Edge and Windows). The overall goal is to make this technology available to everyone. Accessible technology gives people with disabilities opportunities, choices and independence, allowing them the ability to engage in activities they desire. Since we began this work in 2017, we have completed about 75 projects.

Q: What do you love most about your job?

I’ve always been interested in science and I love people. This type of research has been a great way to merge both. I enable people to get their voices heard by reporting on their feedback and data, which hopefully helps to improve the healthcare and quality of life of people with disabilities in the long run.

Q: What is something that may surprise people about working in research?

Having people skills is a plus! The heart of a good researcher is the desire to discover something new that benefits people and then present those findings so others may learn. Research study participants volunteer their time and effort, and trust the integrity of the researcher to present their data in a meaningful way. It’s up to us to never take that for granted.



Emory University

  • Bachelor’s degree in biology
  • Master’s degree in public health


  • Nicole was born in Jamaica and moved to the United States when she was 3 years old.
  • Nicole’s first job was working as a shampoo girl for her parents’ salon and beauty supply business.
  • Nicole was in the gospel choir at Emory University, but she insists she cannot sing.
  • Nicole loves puzzles.

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.